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Rope

Year: 1946
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Arthur Laurents/Hume Cronyn/Patrick Hamilton
Cast: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger

It's Hitchcock's most experimental film, famous for being broken up into ten minute chapter-style sections divided by the camera zeroing in on a random surface in the apartment location before zooming back out to begin the next chapter.

The script is a moral quandary. Do those who see themselves as intellectually superior have the right to commit a murder just to prove that superiority by being smart enough to get away with it?

It's a theory preppy Harvard graduates Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) test as the film opens when they strangle their former classmate David to death in their swanky New York loft, putting the body in a sideboard.

Phillip is far less confident about what they've done, especially with a clutch of guests about to arrive for a dinner party, and Brandon is trying to hold everything together and admonish his friend about chickening out of their plan, where they'll eventually dispose of David's body and they'll have committed the perfect crime.

In short order people from the housekeeper to the guests arrive, including David's father, fiance and eccentric Aunt who fancies herself a fortune teller. Among them is Brandon, David and Phillip's former professor, Rupert (James Stewart), who it's revealed unwittingly set the plan in motion when he referred to the philosophical allegories about intellectual superiority, meritocratic right and murder.

As the dinner party goes on, Phillip starts to crumble, everybody worries about why David's so late and hasn't called (with no idea his dead body is in the dresser right there among them), and the small talk dinner conversation turns darker when suspicions arise – particularly for Rupert.

It's naturally very stagey, set as it is in one location, although the continuity work on the cloudscape over the city outside done using matte paintings and an ever-darkening sky through the windows is interesting.

There's one shot out the window into the street as the movie opens when passersby hear David's screams (a bit of a touch of wry comedy nowadays, when not even a burst of AR-15 gunfire would raise an eyebrow), and from there you're completely inside the apartment for Hitchcock to stage his multi-act play – which was based on a play originally.

There's an interesting historical dimension to the dialogue and acting styles, although they most likely came from the stage show, and the moral theme is worth the running time, but you get the feeling it's Hitchcock flexing his muscles for the bigger guns we'd get later in Rear Window, Vertigo, etc.

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